French don't understand why Democrats are blowing impeachment

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment is hard to explain to the French. They never understood why lying about consensual inter-office adultery was grounds for impeaching former President Bill Clinton. The French find sex interesting but professionally irrelevant, and lying about it when asked is considered perfectly normal, since they think it’s no one’s business anyway.

When the French hear that Trump is being impeached for abusing his power for personal gain by conditioning congressionally approved financial aid to Ukraine on the announcement of a bogus investigation into a political rival, they recognize it as corruption and can’t understand why the matter is so contentious when a procedure exists to address it. What they can’t grasp is the level of Democratic incompetence that would permit Trump to escape consequences.

There is no such thing as impeachment in France. Presidents have immunity during their time in office. They can, however, be charged and convicted for criminal acts after they leave. In fact, it’s now almost routine to see former French presidents — from the late Jacques Chirac to Nicolas Sarkozy — face charges for alleged corruption once they leave office.

Following his presidency, Chirac was tried and convicted of embezzling public funds as mayor of Paris by creating fake jobs to stuff his party’s coffers. He was given a suspended two-year sentence and never went to jail.

Sarkozy faces a corruption trial in October. The former president allegedly obtained wiretapped information from a judge in exchange for helping the judge obtain a prestigious appointment in Monaco. Sarkozy is also under investigation for “passive corruption,” allegedly having misused Libyan public funds and illicit campaign financing during the reign of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. (Under Sarkozy, France joined a NATO-led coalition in 2011 that intervened in Libya’s civil war, eventually resulting in Gaddafi’s death.)

So you see, what Trump is accused of doing doesn’t raise any eyebrows here in France. It falls within the realm of garden-variety political corruption. The difference is that the U.S. has a far higher level of moral outrage, as well as the ability to address it while the president is still in office, imposing consequences through a strictly political process prior to any judgment on potentially criminal behavior.

By that standard, removal from office in the U.S. should be easy. And this is what the French don’t understand: They don’t get how Democrats have managed to botch what seems to be an obvious case, tripping over their own tails en route to holding Trump accountable.

Why, for instance, were Democrats in such a big hurry to secure impeachment in the House of Representatives before the Christmas break that they neglected to legally challenge any of the witnesses who rejected their subpoenas? That colossal mistake is why they’re now groping for a way to introduce new evidence and witnesses — particularly former national security adviser John Bolton, whose leaked book manuscript reportedly includes the ultimate smoking gun: confirmation that Trump did indeed condition military aid for Ukraine on an announcement of an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

An attorney for Ukrainian-born middleman Lev Parnas, who worked with Trump’s lawyer pal Rudy Giuliani in an attempt to dig up dirt on the Bidens, has released a recording of Trump at a private dinner talking about wanting then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch removed from her position. Parnas was arrested in early October, well before the House impeachment hearings began.

Congressional Democrats have argued that they didn’t want to get tied up in courts over witnesses. They chose to roll the dice on whether they’d be able to get witness testimonies admitted at the Senate trial. Only now do they seem to realize just how critical the testimony of Bolton and Parnas is to their case.

Lacking that evidence, Democrats have to fall back on the mellifluous orations of brilliantly articulate Democratic impeachment manager Adam Schiff, interspersed with his random staccatos of hysterical accusations of collusion with Russia. Listening to Schiff is like hearing the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra punctuated by some guy playing a banjo. None of it is a fitting substitute for evidence that the Democrats made little effort to obtain.

The Democrats are hoping there will be so much overwhelming evidence of impeachable acts by Trump that Senate Republicans are forced to choose between voting him out of office or facing the wrath of their constituents at the polls in November. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the incompetence that resulted in the exclusion of key evidence from the Senate trial allows Republicans to argue a technicality: that evidence not admitted in trial is nothing more than gossip.

House Democrats have done a disservice to everyone who wanted to see all of the evidence presented. In their rush to score symbolic impeachment points, they just may have blown a historic opportunity.